The Agony & The Empathy (Sponsored)

The following post was sponsored by Health Teacher's Awesome Upstander anti-bullying app/game. Thanks Awesome Upstander


I am MUCH more a fan of “defending friends” by “standing up for them” than I am “killing bad guys” with guns so when Awesome Upstander contacted me to give their game a whirl and post about it here, I agreed. And being that October is bully awareness month and I’ve posted about bullying in the past, I thought this would be a good time to write a follow up post about what parents, teachers and technology are doing to raise bully awareness in ways that appeal to children.

Every year at Archer’s school, the children take part in various anti-bullying workshops that include parent interviews about how they were bullied and what it was like for them. The children then write papers, discuss in groups, listen to various speakers (including parents) who share their experiences with the classrooms. By modeling empathy and sending a clear message that meanness will not be tolerated, the schools are doing, in my opinion, everything they can.

However, behind ever bully, every “mean girl” is someone who is afraid, insecure and suffering as well and I think instead of writing off these kids, we should be talking about their pain as well. Because that seems to be the root of the problem, the pain and the fear and the anger that causes children to put down, ridicule, troll, slam, hate. And because fighting hate with hate solves nothing and bullying bullies is not only counterintuitive, it does nothing to mitigate the problem. One can be punished without being “pushed” back and I think, although the dialogue is important and I’m completely grateful that we have things like bully awareness month and education and technology stepping up and speaking out against bullying, I think we also need to speak about the war that’s going on inside some of these kids and how best to raise confident kids. Instead of just calling out “bullies” as problems. The real trouble is that most kids are enablers. Not because they’re weak but because, those who do not desire conflict tend to follow as opposed to lead. Not always, but often. And it’s easier to “go with it” then to speak out. I am guilty of this in my relationships for sure.
Confrontation has never been my strength and to this day I wish I was better equipped in that department. I’m a bottler. I pickle emotions and store them in my little pickled emotions box and eventually, when the box is full of jars = EXPLOSION PEW PEW SHARDS OF GLASS BAM-BAM! What does this have to do with bullying? A lot, actually. By teaching our children to be empathetic as well as confrontational,  sticking up for friends and colleagues, as well as other peers, even strangers might be easier for them. And I'm not talking about "pushing back" per se. Empathetic confrontation is a skill I have yet to master but I've decided that it's one of the most important skills to carry in one's tackle box so we're working on that one at home. And by "we" I mean all of us.

We talk about responding to insults by asking questions instead of "insulting back." About imagining the people who otherwise "cause us grief" in ways that are warm and loving instead of hateful. We discuss the importance of speaking up and standing up for, of being protective of ourselves and the people we love. I was raised to believe that everyone deserves to be loved and treated with kindness, even those who do hateful, even unspeakable things. Only as an adult do I realize this is a controversial way of thinking. Fighting hate with love seems like a better alternative to me so that is what I teach my children. It's what my mother taught me and her mother taught her and, I don't know if you've noticed, but they're pretty smart ladies.

We also talk about pain and anger and how sometimes we do idiotic things when we are in pain and/or angry, as to understand that others do too. Specifically peers who take their pain and fear and insecurity out on other children. I think one of the most important things a parent can do is talk about her failures, and show weakness, so that her children can understand that even authority figures, at time, feel unauthoritative. That everyones has weaknesses, even the (seemingly) strong.

Anyway. All this to say, games where kids are “sticking” up for each other are a step in the right direction and anything that promotes “standing up for” in a way that doesn’t otherwise “knock someone down" gets my thumbs up. Because empathy doesn't just go both ways, in my opinion, it goes all ways, always.

This month, HealthTeacher, Inc. will donate 50% of its Awesome Upstander! app sales to anti-bullying partner organizations to help put an end to bullying. Each day approximately 160,000 children miss school for fear of being bullied. Working with HealthTeacher, Inc. to help shrink this statistic are; The KIND Campaign, an internationally recognized movement, documentary and school program based upon the powerful belief in KINDness that brings awareness and healing to the negative and lasting effects of girl-against-girl "crime," and TruthLocker, a free archiving app that automatically saves every text, photo and social media message in case a child is ever attacked by a cyberbully. For more information on how you can get involved go here. Awesome Upstander is available for 99 cents on iTunes and/or Android Marketplace.